Jeremiah Wright 1, Sound Bite 0

By John Bloom | 04/29/2008


Since when do you have “amens” at the National Press Club? Apparently when Jeremiah Wright is the speaker!

I once knew a city editor in Philadelphia who would say “amen” to a dry Rob Roy at 2 in the afternoon, which is the closest anyone ever came to exuberance in the newsrooms of my youth. But anybody who watched any cable this past weekend could be forgiven for thinking that Rupert Murdoch just launched a new Jeremiah Wright Channel, as first the man appeared on Bill Moyers Journal, then his entire keynote address to the NAACP was broadcast and re-broadcast by CNN, and finally he did a brisk 30-minute speech to the National Press Club followed by an even brisker half-hour Q&A session Monday morning that was simultaneously broadcast by at least five networks. Whew! What’s going on here?

Obama Matthews

Some evidence of what’s going on here could be gleaned from the steady blow-by-blow commentary of the interchangeable anchor people who commented on the unfolding media blitz that clearly took the Barack Obama campaign by surprise. Chris Matthews said bluntly, “Why doesn’t this man go away?” Obama’s political advisory team got on the phones to the networks and asked them, in effect, “Why are you giving Wright this platform? How often in the past have you re-broadcast any speech to the NAACP?” And the media answered, in effect, “Hey, it’s a breaking story, why isn’t Obama shooting him down?” To which Obama’s organization said, “How many times, and in how many ways, do we need to repeat that he doesn’t speak for Obama?”

Obama Wright

And they were right. It wasn’t about Obama. That never rang true to me, this idea that intemperate statements by a preacher should come crashing down on a candidate because he happens to worship at that man’s church. First of all, the media already agreed back in December, after the Mitt Romney speech at Texas A&M, that we were not going to do this to any candidate! Second, the implication by the media that Wright should shut up in order to help Obama’s campaign raises two questions: 1) Why should he care about helping Obama’s campaign? He’s his pastor, not his campaign manager. 2) Why would the media want help for any particular campaign? Not a single Hair Helmet spoke up to say, “Let Wright speak. We trashed him, it’s his turn to talk.”

To Chris Matthews, especially, I would say, “The man is a preacher. He’s not allowed to go away and he’s not allowed to be ‘temperate.’ That would be the equivalent of a soldier abandoning the battlefield.”

James Cone

But what Jeremiah Wright alleged about the recent controversy didn’t ring true either. He kept saying, “This is not about me, it’s about the black church.” He was implying that somehow there was a conspiracy afoot to bring down the black church, specifically the so-called “prophetic” black church that speaks hard words to the government and the overlords of our culture. One brilliant moment in Wright’s speech to the press, I thought, was his disavowal of Black Liberation Theology in the form of a compliment to James H. Cone, its inventor, followed by a brief outline of his own view of the transforming gospel (specifically the calls to action of Jeremiah 41 and the Jesus of Luke 4), a view that is color-blind and unsentimental and ends in reconciliation.

There’s no conspiracy to bring down the black church. There’s no failure to understand the black church, at least not any greater failure than the general lack of interest in the word “church” itself. Most people, but especially the working press, would be content with a black church that’s silent, a black church that’s noisy but out of view, or a black church that ceases to exist entirely. To constantly assert that people are assaulting the black church is nonsense.

Obama

So if this is not about Barack Obama and it’s not about the black church, what is it about?

It’s about something that, in my view, is far more important. Jeremiah Wright is the first man in my lifetime to speak prophetic words against the Sound Bite. In fact, he brought it tumbling down. He was attacked with sound bites—as he pointed out, nobody had listened to the actual sermons used to pillory him—and, in rebuttal, he forced everyone to listen to five solid hours of the ultimate Jeremiad. He single-handedly broke free of the format itself, showing everyone how he moves, how he talks, how he makes points in three dimensions. He was more successful at getting his own views across than any of the three remaining presidential candidates have been at getting theirs across. He made everyone listen to the beginning, the middle and the end of complete stories and complete ideas. He said, in effect, “I refuse to let you take 30 seconds of my sermon and make any conclusion from that.”

Many others have felt sandbagged by the sound bite, rendered impotent by the media, but they were unable to fight back. Jeremiah Wright said, “I will be heard.” And he was. This one man defeated about 200 billion dollars worth of media concentration. He said, “The microphone is mine. I’ll tell you when I’m finished.”

Those who say, “Well, he got away with it because he came along in the middle of a presidential campaign,” should try to do it themselves. It’s not easy to derail the entire media-industrial complex. During the Q&A at the National Press Club, the most “dangerous” time for a politician, Wright was in his element, clearing enjoying himself, zinging the questioners, laughing at the absurdity of it all, and saying, in response to one particularly convoluted question about how he could hurt Obama’s campaign, “I’m not running for president.” He said it with a raised eyebrow, and then added, “However, I’m offering myself for vice president.”

And what came through it all? Reconciliation. He ended each message with reconciliation. Reconciliation is the word of both the apostle Paul and of Nelson Mandela. What could possibly be scary about that? I don’t have to watch the sound bites anymore, I heard the sermon.


Comments(85)

JoshH | 03:43 am on 4/29/2008

Well said, John.
Perhaps Jeremiah Wright will finally help people understand that "prophecy" is not predicting the future, but declaring God's truth.

That alone would in a few days do more than Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and every member of the TBN crew COMBINED have done over these last 30 YEARS.

The idea that God is on the side of "the little guy" is one that has been strangled by the "send $20 and you'll be another 'big guy' too" talk for too long.

Bill Scudder | 07:40 am on 4/30/2008

Wright said what he said, sound bite or no sound bite. He said the US government instigated the aids virus to to eliminate the black race and that 9-11 was our governments fault. the guy is a looney bird.

The United Church of Christ is also the most liberal denomination in the US with many of their church's having gay pastors, etc.

Bailey Hankins | 10:27 am on 4/30/2008

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand, that makes Obama Osama Saddam Hussein guilty by association, right?

Oh Barack, please wear the flag lapel pin!

Anonymous | 02:08 am on 3/06/2010

My Republican cousin sent me a e-mail about how un-patriotic Obama was because he hadn't worn a flag lapel pin. So I sent her a picture of George and Laura Bush standing on a rug in the form of an American flag at the 9/11 ground zero site at the 9/11 fifth anniversary commemoraton ceremony. She responded angrily that the picture was a liberal media hoax. Right. With the whole world watching you can fake a picture of the Bushes standing on an American flag rug.

The High and The Mighty | 06:40 pm on 4/30/2008

I've Said It Before and I'll Say It again:A Hate Spewing Demagogue In The Guise Of Clergy Is still A Hate Spewing Demagogue!!!
And I'm So Tired Of These"Conspiracies Against The Church and Christianity"Diatribes!!
Folks,The Only"Conspiracy"Against Christianity Is In The Tangled Minds of Self Styled Preachers and The Fervent Mind of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins and The Whole"Left Behind"Crowd!!
Now On The Same Hand,The Whole "Faux Nooze"Crowd Like Vanity;O'Really;EtAl.;Seem To Jump On His Words Like The Dingo In That Meryl Streep Movie"A Cry In The Dark",Yet Theyr'e Strangely Silent About Pat Robertson;Fred Phelps and The Like!!!
Personally,I'm Tired Of all These Self styled"Preachers"Who Are As Far Removed From The Christianity Jesus Preached As The Man In The Moon!!

buda | 07:20 pm on 4/30/2008

Do you have a program that automatically capitalizes every word or do you have to push the "shift" key for every word? 'Cause That Seems Like A Lot Of Work For Making It More Difficult To Read Your Post.

Muddy | 01:18 am on 5/01/2008

NotToMentionNotHittigTheSpaceKey;EvenWhenUsing[Incorrect]Punctuaton

Benjamin Bailey | 02:46 am on 5/22/2008

May God protect and bless Jermiah Wright who understands who the politically and religiously correct anti-free speech false prophet moneychangers that are spewed out of warmongering fundamentally self-righteous white seminaries to whom our lord could have ben referencing to as the blind leadind the blind congregations of swine ,he had wasted so much time casting his "glorious pearls of truth and revelation before smelly gluttonous doubletalking
carnivorious cannabilistic congregations led by lying anti-christ confusedself-serving political pawns.These are the lost that made him feel like regurgitating as he would have nothing to do. on judgement day.Its not hard to realize who,s side these losers would be on,servants of the Romanistic false system.Forgive my white ignorant brethern and may you succeed as the truth might go forward regardless of race maybe enough americans can awaken if we are not already Egytianized out of Ignorance fear,corruption and collusion.

Peter | 08:55 am on 8/19/2008

Well said!

Outside the US | 08:09 am on 5/07/2008

Do people in the US believe it wasn't the US government's fault?

pk | 07:57 am on 4/29/2008

Well, I can say that at least where I am, there is a general misunderstanding about the Black church... a lot of shortsighted people with no personal experience with the tradition means that they assume everyone is just like them, which is of course pretty terrible. But I would agree that in general, it's not that hard to understand it, and the main reaction people are having is not confusion but fear. I hate fear.

Cranky | 08:04 am on 4/29/2008

Yes, John
Not that you have ever used sound bites out of a sermon to make somebody look foolish, demented or wrong.

Anonymous | 08:21 am on 4/29/2008

Wait a minute there Cranky. It is our purpose to make John and Ole look good. Now shut up.

Mad Prophet of Mandeville | 05:04 am on 4/30/2008

TO LATE!!!

Raffi Shahinian | 09:27 am on 4/29/2008

"So if this is not about Barack Obama and it’s not about the black church, what is it about?"

I have my own thoughts about that question, for anyone who may be interested.

Grace and Peace,
Parables of a Prodigal World

Siarlys Jenkins | 10:38 pm on 4/29/2008

And darn good thoughts they are too. Thanks for posting them. Hey everyone, this guy is worth reading. Really. Polycarp was saying the Jesus is Lord and Caesar isn't. And Jeremiah Wright...

jackson | 11:47 pm on 4/24/2010

you boy

Anonymous | 10:14 am on 4/29/2008

Some other views on Rev Wrong

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/bal-md.kane12apr12,0,3936680.colu...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/what-barack-obama-could-n_b_927...

If we want to talk about bitter people who cling to guns and religion, look at urban black America

SRebbe | 10:56 am on 4/29/2008

very true on the prophecy front. too many people wanting to predict the future -- we are awash in the "new" white magick of western xtianity, coating it in all kinds of tasty sugars and exotic flavors (now available in organic), making sure that we can control G-d and that he is on our side instead of the other way around.

and there will be wars and rumors of wars and hurricanes and floods and terrorist attacks when we don't follow the Good Book and perform the right rituals and chant the correct incantations on Sunday morning.

G-d bless us, every one. especially the Americans and Israelis.

BJ | 07:13 am on 4/30/2008

Preach on sister. Just imagine the judgement we will call down if a black, muslim, Oprah lovin, America hatin', No flag lapel pin wearing, No hand over the heart puttin', antichrist, is elected president. No to mention he's a democrat. We will surely invoke the wrath of God.

Robert Winkler Burke | 11:04 am on 4/29/2008

I disagree, John. We should not defend Reverend Jeremiah Wright for defending his outrageous, brazen and hateful sermons against races not of his own tribe. He says his nuanced brand of throw-back tribalism, otherwise known as Liberation Theology, is perfectly normal, acceptable and keenly good for the black church and world at large. Worse yet, there appears to be a large group of like-minded, similarly indoctrinated believers. These believers have never apparently been enlightened about the bondage of unforgiveness, resentment and revenge; nor told about audience-control wiles of deception to enable them to see through stylistic, lying frauds like Wright. Nor do such believers appear to be aware of Western Enlightenment’s noble precepts, purchased with blood to keep a people from believing strife-mongering, prejudice-amplifying demagogues like Wright. Why? I believe, as Trinity Foundation appears to believe, too many televangelists employ fraudulent style, wiles of audience control and fixed-rule over-emphasis to achieve their particular ends: Goods and glory. Is it any wonder certain church-taught communities of people, and perhaps even nations, are confused? You cannot shoot out the lights of discernment by employing wiles of deception to get mammon from the masses and garner anything else but pitch-black grief. Good grief!

S | 10:47 pm on 4/29/2008

I did find something to disagree with Rev. Wright about. In one of the sermon's available on U-Tube, the full length ones, he referenced Jesus as a black child living in a white-ruled world. Now Rev. Wright should know better than to credit the Romans with being "white." There was no such concept as "white man" before the Portuguese invented it in the early 1500s. There was no such concept as "black man" until the Portuguese pioneered the practice of going to Africa saying "me white man, you black man" and similar savage nonsense. The Romans ruled a Mediterranean polity in which most of the inhabitants were various shades of bronze, not so dark as Nigerians, but certainly nothing that would get you invited to dinner at Thomas Jefferson's plantation either. The direct ancestors of "white men" were the barbarians of the north, and the first time Jesus was painted "white" was when bronze missionaries went forth to convert those barbarians to the True Faith. They wanted to make Jesus culturally relevant to their new converts. Rev. Wright must have watched too many British movies of Julius Caesar, creating the false impression that the Romans looked and talked like Brits. Eventually, people with beautiful dark brown complexions will have to give up this silly identification of "black," but first it is up to those classified as "white" to give up that ID, because "black" was imposed as a counter-point to certain people calling themselves "white."

ny guy | 01:57 am on 4/30/2008

"Jesus as a black child living in a white-ruled world" that's a ridiculous point to make. I remember I saw a movie once that portrayed Jesus' crucifixion as primarily resulting from racist persecution from lighter skinned Jews and Romans. What a trite and contrived contextual mess.

Zeiglarre | 04:05 pm on 4/30/2008

This certainly seems to me to be a metaphor. Jesus was a child of an oppressed people. The Romans had occupied his homeland for decades. He was the subject of a puppet regime under one of Herod the Great's sons. He had virtually no say in what happened to him. He lived at the whim of an unaccountable authority in the various Roman governors and their stooges. I can see how a man who lived through Jim Crow laws can make that comparison. It is not about race, but power.

buda | 07:04 pm on 4/30/2008

And didn't this oppressed fellow also say "Render unto Caesar what is Caesars, and unto God what is God's"? Maybe Jesus was less concerned about the politics of class and race than we are.

ny guy | 09:56 pm on 4/30/2008

I agree.

ny guy | 01:43 am on 5/01/2008

He seemed to make it a point to show that he wasn't on the side of a Maccabean-like overthrow of the oppression that the Jews were facing in their dealings with the Romans.

Outside the US | 08:15 am on 5/07/2008

I'm not white, I'm caucasian. Although I know at least two major Asian languages call their paler people's skin 'white' (it is a compliment for the women - beautiful, insult for the men - weak).

that calvinist doug | 11:09 am on 4/29/2008

Only because I love to argue will I make this point:

You stated in the article that Obama "just happens to attend his (Wright's) church."

Well, no. I "just happen to attend church" with a fellow member, whom I may or may not even know, like, or have anything else in common with. But the pastor? No, you can't logically make that statement.

Second, I've heard some people (primarily Keith Oberman and his loony cronies, also known as the "I HATE Bush show") trying to draw a comparison between Hagee's endorsement of McCain and Obama's 20-year membership at Wright's church. How utterly ridiculous.

It's just plain funny to see the left getting jabbed with the same spear (religion) that they've thrust at the right ever since Reagan.

pk | 12:10 pm on 4/29/2008

I would take issue with this (as a pk, obviously). As many disclaimers as I can think (it depends on culture, it depends on regionalism, it depends on local diversity, it depends on style, it depends on what color vestry you choose, blah blah blah) I still come down to the fact that pastors don't choose their members. And members choose a church, not a pastor. Believe me, there is a huge percentage of members who are actually nearly opposite their pastor in theology, politics, and beliefs. I'm still a member at a church, actually, where I am almost completely at odds with the current pastor. Disclaimers again, it depends on denomination, culture, style, blah, blah. But I think it's a significant thing. Pastors in the American church, mainstream or otherwise, are not like Biblical teachers with disciples.

Oh, and while I don't think Hagee's endorsement of McCain is really McCain's fault, I'm pretty ticked off at him for saying he was happy to have it.

that calvinist doug | 12:49 pm on 4/29/2008

My only rebuttal is this: at least in my own experience, the pastor and his message(s) are probably THE most significant deciding factor in the churches I've joined. Sure, worship style, kids' programs, music, and other factors influence my satisfaction, but at the end of the day, if I don't feel I'm growing by listening to the sermons, all the other stuff becomes an exercise in diminishing returns (sorry, my finance major just kicked in).

As far as McCain/Hagee go, I don't think very many politicians would turn down very many endorsements, no matter what their nexus. Besides, being "happy to have" and endorsement is not even in the same stratosphere, in terms of ascent, as a 20-year membership to any organization. And, yes, even though I love my pastor and generally agree with his stances, I'd leave my church if I began to hear a regular pattern of the tripe I hear from Wright. But maybe not for the reasons you suspect. It wouldn't matter to me what the political persuasion was, I don't go to church to hear politics, social policy, one-sided historical analysis, or anyting else besides biblical preaching. If I want that other stuff, there's plenty better-suited places to get it.

pk | 05:49 pm on 4/29/2008

I think you're a cut above the average churchgoer in terms of demanding the right kind of substance from a church. That's a very good thing. But I still think most people are there because they found a group to fit into.. and Obama in particular talked about starting to attend because he wanted a way to connect to the religious community. I'm not defending JW or Obama in particular, I just think it's important to be aware of how hard it is to accurately ascribe motive or reasoning to another person, especially one we only know through heavily edited material. (Sort of a 'be patient, every man is fighting a hard battle' argument, really.)

Maybe not very many politicians would turn down endorsements, but the current batch is doing it left and right, except for McCain. I agree that comparing the Hagee thing to the Wright thing is idiotic (though not for the same reasons, probably) but from McCain, who won my heart years ago by calling his ilk what they are, it feels to me like a betrayal to see him speaking at Liberty and smiling about Hagee. Perhaps I should take my own advice and give him a break.

BJ | 02:15 pm on 4/30/2008

"I was born a poor black child." Ok I wasn't but neither was Steve Martin. "He hates the cans." Anyway, many in the black community look for political statements from their pastors. For so long it was the only voice they had. MLK Jr made many controversial statements to shine a light on the condition of blacks. He recognized and gave voice to the hate inside the black community put there by white America. He of course pleaded with blacks to overcome hate with love. I'm not trying to compare the two, but the tradition that produced Rev. Wright is easily recognizeable and acceptable.
I don't believe Rev. Wright's assertion that the US was asking for 9/11 to happen. There is no justification for such acts. I do believe we have acted in ways that feed the hate of those who would destroy us.
I think we would do well to recognize the disatisfaction and hate that still exist in the hearts of many blacks. Their pastor's aren't ignoring it. Aren't these the people we want giving it voice and resolution. We need to realize this has been there all along. There are people who are still in the struggle.
I applaud Obama's actions in the early stages of this "controversy." He did not throw his pastor, his friend under the bus. However, of late Rev. Wright left Obama no choice, but to distance himself. Rev. Wright was not a voice crying from the pulpit any longer. He became another talking head. No longer a pastor pointing to the very real story of struggle in the black community. He has become the story.

buda | 07:07 pm on 4/30/2008

Wow, BJ, that was very well said. A good point, well taken. And no sexual innuendo....

David Williams | 11:33 am on 4/29/2008

So Wright is entertaining, cantankerous, passionate, big-hearted, a ferocious preacher, and occasionally gets himself into hot water. Of course you'd want to attend his church.

That he's laying in to the media-industrial complex is a blessing. We need real coverage of the the challenges facing our nation this election, not the Two Candidates and a Cup emptiness we've been sickened by for the last several decades.

JoshH | 04:49 pm on 4/29/2008

That's why I was shocked and disheartened to hear that Barack Obama has continued to distance himself from Wright today. I think that may have been the dumbest thing I've seen him do yet. All it's gonna do is keep this s*it in the news for another day.

Robert Winkler Burke | 01:00 pm on 4/29/2008

If you can stand the Age of Enlightenment vocabulary (grin) see Victor Davis Hanson's piece, "Orwellian Times" at http://victorhanson.com/articles/hanson042908.html for clarification of Wright's strange accolades.

Anonymous | 01:45 pm on 4/29/2008

The true prophets of old were not necessarily popular and in many cases hated. A popular prophet is a contradictory idea though Wright appears to be a popular minister; but ministers are not prophets all the time but it seems it's Wright's time. He seems to have done his job in making those who will hear uncomfortable with good cause. He may very well be a most dangerous man for lots of people right now. While I've not followed the news in some days, I can at least admire his resolve to point toward hope; reconciliation though the transformational power of the Gospel if this is indeed what he has said.

ny guy | 02:25 pm on 4/29/2008

Im just sick of this whole Wright thing already. This is still going on why?

JoshH | 04:51 pm on 4/29/2008

Partly because Obama's got some dumbasses in his corner telling him to keep talking about it.

This is the polar opposite of Kerry's mistake with the "Swift Boat" ad; Kerry waited until the last minute to talk about it and couldn't definitively state his view even then; now, Obama can't keep his damn mouth shut about it.

SRebbe | 02:31 pm on 4/29/2008

turning into the new Paris Hilton craze mebbe. ;)

Convoy | 05:56 pm on 4/29/2008

Lets just hope Wright doesn't start wearing a miniskirt

buda | 06:47 pm on 4/29/2008

Leave that to Obama Girl.

SRebbe | 12:15 pm on 4/30/2008

dibs if he gets the one with sequins

BJ | 07:15 am on 4/30/2008

Now that was a good flick.

Process Deist | 05:47 pm on 4/30/2008

Oh yes! I think I wore out the rewind button.

Prophet Lopi | 07:05 pm on 4/29/2008

Rev Wright is a child of his generation and his life experience. There are white,brown and yellow Rev Wrights everywhere in our society. He is a closet hater and like all those of his ilk who hide behind a message of supposed hope that just makes them experts at "Rope a Dope". He wants retribution on "the evil white culture" and he plans to have his way. So don't get in his way, let him have his say.

cameron larson | 04:38 am on 4/30/2008

black church shmack church, it's not the gospel just a platform for blacks who are not really educated to rail against the establishment instead of being witnessess for the Messiah, they are duped by this man's half truths

BJ | 03:15 pm on 4/30/2008

That's a nice hood you have there.

Dr. Dewey | 06:01 am on 4/30/2008

As a preacher I have always realized that it is a sacred, and scary, thing to stand in the pulpit and say that I speak for God. When Wright says, "G D America, THE BIBLE SAYS THAT," he LIES! Truth should come from the pulpit! All preachers are sinners, hopefully saved by grace, so we have all said things that should not have been said. What I say privately is far less guarded than what I say from the pulpit. Wright apparently has NO CONCEPT of what it is to be called of God to preach! He should surrender his ordination papers and put duct tape across his mouth. Once or twice in preaching I have wandered into a bit of rabble rousing, and realized that it is inappropriate! Wright uses INCENDIARY speech! I keep wanting to call him Wrong because it fits him so well. When I preach I try hard to be factual unless I'm obviously telling a joke. Wright obviously plays hard and fast with the truth. BY THE WAY, Obama claims Wright was terribly deprived growing up. Truth is that he went to an elite public school, 90% white, quite a few Jews, no racial problems. And he was pointed to as an outstanding student! So Mr. O square dances, or break dances, with the truth as well!

Hopefully Wright's church can find someone who will expose the glorious truths found in the Bible, heaven knows they've been deprived a long time.

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